Along with the recent wave of contaminated pet food and the deaths that it has caused, there has been some confusion over the legal situation.
Because the deaths and injuries caused by the contaminated pet food involved animals, the law views the situation differently than it would if humans had died. The law in most U.S. states views pets as property. Any negligent act which causes harm or death to an animal is treated as property damage, not personal injury. So, while the negligently-caused death of a close family member might entitle a person to damages for emotional distress and loss of companionship, the death of an animal entitles the owner to far less. The owner will, at most, be able to recover the market value of the animal and veterinary expenses.
In some recent cases, the lawyers for pet owners have argued that pets are "special property" – that is, they have some intrinsic value to their owners not measured by their market price. This doctrine is well-established concerning unique family heirlooms, and other items of value that is not easily quantified, but whether or not it will be successfully applied to animals remains to be seen.
To recover anything, the owner of a pet sickened by tainted pet food will have to show that the food was a direct cause of the pet’s illness. Proving liability will probably not be the most difficult part of any pet food lawsuit.
The issue of damages will likely be far more complex. Anyone who wants to sue, and hopes to recover damages beyond the market value of the pet, will have to find a lawyer willing to take a big gamble on some creative legal arguments. There is no guarantee that such arguments will succeed, and if they do win at trial, the pet food makers are almost certain to appeal, which could draw out the process for years.
If your pet suffered injuries or died as a result of consuming contaminated pet food, you should consult an attorney to understand if you have a legal claim.
Last Modified: 12-07-2016 11:06 AM PSTLaw Library Disclaimer
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